Comment: The case for modernisation of UK airspace

Comment: The case for modernisation of UK airspace

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The Sustainable Aviation coalition of airlines, airports, aircraft manufacturers and air traffic services wrote to David Cameron last week. Ian Jopson, chair of Sustainable Aviation, explains why

Modernising the UK’s airspace is essential to avoid growing delays for passengers and to ensure UK aviation delivers on its commitments to cleaner, quieter and smarter flying.

That is why, as Chair of Sustainable Aviation, I have written to the Prime Minister calling on the Government to consider major airspace modernisation as a national infrastructure project, comparable to the rollout of superfast broadband.
Both are critical to our economic growth, both deliver benefits to the UK as a whole and both merit the same priority.

Our letter follows an earlier open letter to the Prime Minister from a number of community action groups calling for a moratorium on all further trials of airspace changes.

The UK’s airlines, airports, aerospace manufacturers and air navigation service providers represented by Sustainable Aviation understand the local community concerns about aircraft noise reflected in the letter from the action groups and we need to address them, but a moratorium would be a profoundly mistaken way of dealing with this issue.

Airspace trials are an important way of getting the facts and testing what today’s aircraft can do to help us to achieve the best solutions.

UK airports and NATS, the UK’s leading air navigation service provider, should be able to continue to bring forward proposals, working with local communities to provide suitable solutions. 

We want to be permitted to continue investing significantly to modernise our airspace to the benefit of both the UK economy and the environment.

It is modernised airspace that will enable us to minimise noise and cut emissions through better operating procedures, making greater use of techniques such as continuous climbs and descents and reduced holding.
Trials help us to test how, in some cases, implementing multiple alternative routes may be part of the answer and how we can reduce the number of people overflown.

Recent examples include a trial at Stansted Airport which resulted in 85% fewer people overflown compared to existing departure procedures and a London Luton Airport airspace change which reduced the population overflown on one route by 75%, thanks to better navigation technology.

It is not just about noise and emissions, important though they both are, but also about the significant delays that would result from failure to modernise. 

Imagine the motorway network of the 1960s had to cope with today’s road traffic levels.  That is increasingly what we face with our airspace system, whose structures have remained little changed since the 1960s.
With no improvement, flight delays are likely to soar to 50 times what they are today, creating unnecessary noise and CO2 emissions.

That wouldn’t be good for the environment, local economies or the UK economy.

At Sustainable Aviation we are encouraged by recent polling of MPs conducted by the Airport Operators Association which shows that most MPs are aware that the UK’s airspace is in need of modernisation to handle the forecast 50% growth of passengers by 2030 and many also understand how airspace modernisation could reduce the total number of people affected by noise pollution, help to cut net CO2 levels in the UK and allow the technology on modern aircraft to be fully utilised.

We have seen significant technological advances in the performance of aircraft with the introduction of the Airbus A350 XWB and Boeing 787 Dreamliner and innovative procedures at airports to reduce noise and CO2 emissions.  However, our airspace has not kept pace and is in urgent need of modernisation.

Our letter to David Cameron emphasises that the UK aviation industry is committed to finding new and fair ways to modernise our airspace. 

It recognises that airspace modernisation must be carefully considered and that the views of local communities must be an integral and fundamental part of the process. 

So we are pleased that the Department for Transport plans to consult on its policy in this area and we look forward to contributing to the development of a stable, long-term policy that will meet the needs of local communities while enabling the industry to continue providing the connectivity the country needs.

Ian Jopson is chair of Sustainable Aviation and head of environmental and community affairs at NATS


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